The Cost of Being a Woman (Candidate)

It's time that somebody pointed out the real difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Why is Obama doing so much better than Hillary in fundraising? Why does Obama almost never look tired? Why do the ladies of The View tell him he's sexy and really mean it?

Obama has a huge built-in advantage: hair and skin, and neither has anything to do with race. His buzz-cut always looks the same; he surely never has to give it a moment's attention. No one except those closest to him would ever be able to tell when he gets a haircut, and, if he spends more than 10 dollars for it, he's being ripped off. (Had John Edwards had a buzz cut he might be the Democrats' nominee today.) Perhaps the ladies of The View could reveal if Obama wears makeup, but no one else could. (In fact, I've noted that on my old-fashioned TV -- the kind that I've been told will no longer work in February 2009 -- Obama's lips often look blue.)

When Obama awakes, he can jump in the shower -- we know from his wife that he smells bad in the morning -- and then he can get right on those fundraising or strategy calls. Like most men, he wears a uniform; a white shirt open at the neck -- never a button-down collar -- and a dark suit. The biggest decision is whether to wear a tie and, if so, what color?

And then there's Hillary, a woman who in the early years of courtship and marriage to Bill reportedly wanted to dispense with all grooming artifice. In my bookshelves of Hillary/Bill biographies there are stories galore -- meeting Bill's mother, a woman who applied makeup with a trowel and teased her hair into a huge construct, and who when she first saw the make-up free, mousy-haired, Coke-bottle bespectacled Hillary wondered if Bill was joking by bringing home such a plain girl; purchasing her wedding dress off the rack the day before the event; remaining oblivious to the entreaties of the secretaries at the Rose Law Firm, where she worked in Little Rock while Bill was governor, who ached to give the Yale Law School graduate a makeover; refusing to do anything about her eyebrows, then described as resembling a single caterpillar creeping across her forehead.

For a woman of 60 she looks, I think, just great. But it must be so time and money-consuming (and she still gets ridiculed; if she sticks to pant suits, who can blame her, given all the attention her ankles have attracted). She "has help," as she has publicly admitted. Susan Bear in the Washingtonian mentioned a Cristophe stylist who "goes to Clinton's house almost every day at the crack of dawn." Someone else presumably does the makeup. Does she have people traveling with her to keep her looks up on the road? Probably. Otherwise, as every woman knows, the first time she washed her hair it would not look the same. (Ditto for her face.)

And someone must be charged with putting together the outfits, the jewelry, the scarves, the shoes, and knowing how to "tailor" all the above to an audience -- different in all respects for a fundraiser in Manhattan or Marin County than for a high school gymnasium in Western Pennsylvania.

Perhaps Hillary could pay the small vendors who are beginning to be restive and to talk to the press, if she didn't have to spend so much on trying to look perfect. No candidate, but especially a woman, can afford to look homely or ordinary or even tired. If she dared it, that would be the topic of conversation among, not only the media, but the voters as well.